Correction to This Article
A Jan. 3 article incorrectly said that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama was the first African American to be elected Law Review president by the publication┬┐s editors.
Page 2 of 2   <      

Effect of Obama's Candor Remains to Be Seen

Sen. Barack Obama is near the top of polls on potential Democratic presidential candidates.
Sen. Barack Obama is near the top of polls on potential Democratic presidential candidates. (By David Mcnew -- Getty Images)

In fact, Bush himself has been a beneficiary of those sympathies. He has suffered little criticism from his conservative base after acknowledging that he drank too much in the past and is now a teetotaler.

Obama's partisan opponents and experts said it is too early to know whether the admissions will be a liability because the public seems to be enthusiastically embracing his openness at this point. What's more, they note that it is better for a politician to disclose his own transgressions, rather than be put on the defensive by revelations.

A senior Republican strategist who will be advising a GOP presidential candidate in 2008 said he did not see anything in the book that would be a "disqualifier," but he cautioned that Obama has not yet gone through an intense vetting process and that a problem could arise if there is more to his story than he has chosen to share. The strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also suggested that there will be high tolerance for marijuana use among voters because many baby boomers probably tried the drug in the '60s.

"Who's going to cast that first stone?" asked Anita Dunn, a veteran Democratic political consultant, who has advised Obama's political committee.

Rhodes Cook, a independent political analyst, said that Democratic primary voters, who are typically more liberal, would be more understanding of his drug use -- "and if he makes it to a general election, it will be old news."

Obama's supporters said his admissions in the book could work to his advantage.

"I think it will be received as refreshing," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Obama's fellow Democrat from Illinois. "If you compare similar books, many of us in the political business tend to have selective memories."

Obama writes extensively about his struggle to come to terms with being a black man whose African father returned to Kenya when he was 2, leaving him to be raised by his white Kansas-born mother and grandparents in Hawaii. He describes an identity crisis arising from his realization that his life was shaped by both a loving white family and a world that saw in him the negative stereotypes frequently ascribed to young black men. He recounts a search of self that took him from high school in Hawaii to Columbia University, and then to the streets of Chicago as a community organizer.

"We were always playing on the white man's court . . . by the white man's rules," he writes. "If the principal, or the coach, or a teacher . . . wanted to spit in your face, he could, because he had the power and you didn't. . . . The only thing you could choose was withdrawal into a smaller and smaller coil of rage.

"And the final irony: should you refuse this defeat and lash out at your captors . . . they would have a name for that too. Paranoid. Militant."

Obama has not expressed any regrets for his candor. In a preface to the new edition, he says that he would tell the same story today "even if certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically."

In the book, Obama acknowledges that he used cocaine as a high school student but rejected heroin. "Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though," he says.

In an interview during his Senate race two years ago, Obama said he admitted using drugs because he thought it was important for "young people who are already in circumstances that are far more difficult than mine to know that you can make mistakes and still recover.

"I think that, at this stage, my life is an open book, literally and figuratively," he said. "Voters can make a judgment as to whether dumb things that I did when I was a teenager are relevant to the work that I've done since that time."

<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company